Friday, October 1, 2010

Striving to Promote Independence.

One of my favourite Everclear songs has a line “I think you are blind to the fact that the hand you hold is the hand that holds you down”.

Firstly YES I still listen to 90’s music & you should deal with it and move on. That reminds me I should do another music related post, more on that later lets get on with it.

I was reading the Herald Sun website the other day (seriously I’ve bought like 7 newspapers in my entire life - who doesn’t get all their news and current affairs online these days?) There was a piece on Lenore Skenazy and raising Free-Range kids. The concept of Free-Range kids essentially means loosening the parental leash in an effort to promote independence, strangley enough no poultry is involved during this process.

While I can’t say I would go to the extremes of dropping one of my children off in the city at age 9 and expect them to make their way home I can certainly agree with the concept of promoting freedom. I really liked Lenore’s suggestion of taking your oldest living relative to a baby superstore to get a gauge on how society has changed.

I realise that modern materialism is partially to blame for this switch in bubble wrapping our children. We live in an age where products we didn’t know we needed are invented and pushed upon us daily. If you take that spin on it then this cotton wool approach to parenting is directly related to money, “buy this $1000 pram because it has features X, Y & Z, its S A F E R!!”. Safer than what? Pretty sure none of my children have injured themselves or been injured on Mum or Dads back in a sling. Don’t get me wrong I aint hatin’ on prams, man the only way to carry the plethora of stuff associated with a family of 8 sometimes necessitates a pram or stroller. That and our children are all huge and while their parents are superheroes their carrying abilities are limited.

Parents these days are more cautious than they used to be. Is it because of advertising? Is it because we live in a time of innocence lost? Or is it more deeply engrained in the forming of a parents instinct to protect their offspring. I’ve often chuckled at parents priorities wen it comes to safety, specifically the avoidance of physical dangers. Don’t let your 12 year old son climb that tree but by all means let him watch a movies with excessive swearing or portraying disrespect towards women. Or maybe restricting your daughter from playing a “boys sport” but then promote lipstick and makeup from a young age.

I noted the herald sun poll listed 83% of readers were “for” Lenore’s parenting philosophy & 17% were “Against” it. If 87% of people who voted that they agreed with Lenore on principle I’d love to see what percentage would actually leave their child in downtown Manhattan as she did though. There is always risk in everything and I’m cool with that. Because with risk comes the need educate on safety.

Safety isn’t just physical. I see some of Lenore’s points and had a grand old laugh at the mainstream parenting comments on the herald sun article but I cant help but look at some of the many clichés like ”Children are wrapped in cotton wool” or on the flipside “Children aren’t children for as long nowadays”. People are so quick to quote thing slike that but they are just that, pointless clichés. 100 years ago kids weren’t kids for longer than they are now, they were made to enter the work force younger, there was a higher mortality rate, children of working class parents at best had 1 toy if they were lucky.

Nowadays parents spend what would be the equivalent of a years salaray 100 years ago on a video game console. Kids aren’t older now, they don’t grow up faster or slower than they when we were children, or our parents were. Children are children, the’re noobs on their life apprenticeship. You don’t let an apprentice carpenter loose on the circular saw and nailgun on their first day do you? You set a basis of appropriate training, brief him/her on the safety aspects, shadow their use of the power tools until thay have the confidence to go it alone

Unfortunately these days the most common approach to portraying alternative ways of parenting in the media is by taking the most extreme example. Whenever it comes up in general conversation that we home school and attachment parent our children most people say “Oh I saw that 60 minutes story on Attachment Parenting blah blah” - Cue Daddyo’s retreat from the conversation.

Its these extreme ends of the spectrum that have seen the popularisation of adding words like radical in front of an activity. “Oh yes we’re radical un-birthing natural home free-educators”. I just tell people we had our kids at home and we school them there too, no further explanation needed. It’s this choice of raising and educating our children that enables us to pick and choose from many parenting methods and education practises which ones we choose to adopt. More importantly tailor what works and doesn't to the childs needs. Something they wont receive in school.

Promoting freedom or independence (I feel like braveheart) isn’t about leading by example either, I love my horror movies, I play video games like Call of Duty. But I shelter my children from them, if the sun is out the computer and the television are off. This leads on to what some people perceive as being strict, but its not the case. For example my eldest assists with lighting the fire each night, he can explain the triangle of fire to me and knows appropriate safety measures when dealing with fire.

Unfortunately despite agreeing with a lot of the principles of Free-Range kids I cant help but feel that portraying it via the most extreme of uses (Lenore was dubbed ''America's Worst Mom'') works towards a good ideas detriment.

Sometimes the hand you hold can hold you down but it can also lift you up, it can guide you, it can light the way. My Free-Range children are given room to grow, to learn, to succeed, and to fail. They utilise their freedom to explore and are guided when the they ask for it.

Until Next time............

Cool or Crazy

Lenore Skenazy

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